The largest U.S. military exercise in the Pacific in decades ended Friday after showing North Korea and other nations that the United States can swiftly muster a huge combat force in the region, officials said.
The five-day “Valiant Shield” exercises massed an armada of three aircraft carriers and 25 other ships along with 22,000 troops and 280 warplanes off this tiny U.S. territory about halfway between Hawaii and Japan.
Tensions are rising in the region over the possible test-launch of a North Korean long-range missile. Two guided missile cruisers participating in the games were assigned off the Korean coast to monitor the situation.
Lt. Cmdr. Mike Brown, a spokesman for the exercises, declined to say whether they had been diverted from the exercises or were monitoring the situation while continuing their war games duties.
Power and presence
Officials stressed that the exercises, America’s largest in the Pacific since the Vietnam War, were not held in response to the North Korean activity or directed at any one nation, but said they did demonstrate the United States’ capacity to respond to a crisis.
“Valiant Shield was a demonstration of the U.S. Pacific Command’s ability to quickly amass a force in a joint combat environment and project peace, power and presence in the region,” Air Force Lt. Gen. David Deptula told The Associated Press.
Deptula said the situation in North Korea had not affected the exercises, which ended as scheduled Friday evening.
Along with the three carriers and their strike forces, the maneuvers featured a four-plane squadron of B-2 stealth bombers, and dozens of fighter jets.
The aircraft flew 1,993 sorties, according to Sr. Master Sgt. Charles Ramey, an Air Force spokesman.
Officials said the scenarios and tactics used during the games were intended to boost the ability of the Navy, Air Force and Marines to work together and respond quickly to any situation.
Officials in the United States, South Korea and Japan say they believe North Korea may be ready to test launch a Taepodong 2 long-range ballistic missile at any time. The missile is believed able to reach parts of the western United States.
The exercises for the first time were opened to top Chinese military officers. Senior U.S. military officials said they are cautiously trying to mend a rift with Beijing through person-to-person engagement.
Adm. William J. Fallon, the top U.S. commander in the Pacific, said before the exercises began that China was expected to reciprocate.
“I think that would be the logical step,” said Capt. Terry Kraft, who showed the delegation around the USS Ronald Reagan aircraft carrier. “We showed them everything we do from top to bottom. We gave them a very good, transparent look at how we do operations out here.”